Subprime Lawsuits Already Up 50% and No End in Sight

December 22, 2008

There has been an unprecedented escalation in the number of subprime-related legal filings and worsening economic conditions promise to drive the litigation volume ever higher.

Navigant Consulting, Inc., a global consulting firm providing dispute, investigative, operational, risk management and released a report showing that the number of subprime mortgage and related cases filed in federal court during just the first nine months of 2008 already exceeds by more than 50 percent the total for all of 2007 (448 to 294).

Filing volume in the September 2008 quarter was the third highest on record with 131 new matters, while the total number of cases filed reached an astounding 742 for the 21-month period ending on September 30, 2008.

The Navigant report, titled Third Quarter 2008 Update: Breaking New Ground, also shows the subprime-related cases further outstripping the 559 U.S. savings-and-loan cases of the early 1990s, the previous high-water mark in terms of litigation fallout from a major financial crisis.

“The bottom line is that new cases continue to be filed much more rapidly than existing cases are being disposed,” said Jeff Nielsen, who leads Navigant Consulting’s Financial Services Disputes & Investigations group. Nielsen, who actively advises clients in a number of subprime-related matters, added, “We are looking at a traffic jam that will take many years to untangle.”

Nielsen also emphasized that the disastrous market conditions of late 2008 mean that new cases will continue to roll off the assembly line through year-end. For example, the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Lehman Brothers in September 2008 – the largest such filing in U.S. history and perhaps the defining moment in the current credit crisis – has spawned its own cottage industry of litigation.

The report also notes that while the volume of new case filings continues unabated, the litigation is showing signs of maturing based on the breakdown of new cases filed. For example, borrower class action filings – which lead all categories over the seven quarters tracked by Navigant – fell precipitously in the third quarter, as the underlying loan transactions become more remote in time. Meanwhile, the number of securities lawsuits and contract disputes increased sharply, registering their highest quarterly totals to date.

“What we’re seeing is a relative increase in the number of cases brought by investors and institutions,” said Nielsen, “as affected parties take stock of their losses and the recriminations follow from there.”

Source: Navigant Consulting

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